Jesus was a storyteller, a purveyor of parables. Although raised in a carpentry shop, not one of his parables is about woodworking. Instead, he chose other topics to illuminate eternal truths. By my count, 10 of his timeless-tales sprung from the fertile soil of agriculture. Some of his most searing teachings were gleaned from the prophetic lessons of the farm.
Wine country biodynamics
A week ago I had the chance to travel out into the country. I joined a couple of friends, and we slipped west on Highway 99, winding along country roads into the hills outside Newberg, Oregon. It was the sort of perfect day that rarely finds itself in a Northwest April.
I could not have predicted that we were about to experience one of those parable-moments. The meandering road led us to Soter Vineyards and the chance to spend the late morning walking among the acres and acres of young grape vines. We parked the car and climbed to the hill's crest to take in the 360-degree view. Farms, pastures, and estates covered the rolling hills, separated by swaths of evergreen forest. This is Oregon farm country—half a world from Eden and still God's creative masterpiece.
On our walk, we were joined by Jamie, one of the vineyard's staff. She was a splendid companion. At carefully chosen moments, she gave details of the vineyard's history and philosophy of winemaking. She seemed particularly happy to tell us about the estate's organic growing practices.
I was introduced to a new concept. The term she used was "biodynamics." My household dabbles in urban homesteading. We try to grow organically. We just finished a greenhouse on our small inner-city lot in the hope of expanding our growing prowess. We have numerous books on gardening. We farm worms and raise chickens to increase the quality of our soil. And yet the hobby nature of our practices became obvious on that country hilltop. "Biodynamics" was a completely new term.
She explained that when it comes to agriculture, mono-cultures (planting large swaths of a single crop) can be very challenging to the plants. Their vineyard instead practices a philosophy that is a reversal of some long-held agricultural beliefs. Instead of planting grape vines surrounded by only grape vines and distanced from all other species, their philosophy of growing strives for just the opposite. "We use a variety of ground cover to interact directly, root against root, with the wine-producing plants. We also plant other crops adjacent to the vineyards, and then we bring in domestic herds to graze in the offseason, adding their diversity to the nurturing culture."
Now, here was the moment that got stuck in my soul. Jamie said something like this: "We find that when grape vines are surrounded by only other grape vines (a homogenous culture), they become weaker, less productive, even anemic. You could even say they become less 'grape.' On the other hand, when those same vines are surrounded by diverse influences, they actually become more grape, much more than if they were left surrounded by only their own kind."
The ecology of heaven
Jesus the storyteller modeled a life that was surrounded by a surprisingly dynamic "ecology." Though living in a male-dominated culture, he was in the regular company of women, anointed by a woman, women first witnessed his resurrection and the title of "disciple" was also shared by women (Acts 9:36 as one example). Jesus shared his story with people from culturally dynamic backgrounds (Roman centurions, Samaritans, Canaanites). He fellowshipped with societally dynamic characters (outlaws, children, sinners). He embraced economically diverse people (lepers and beggars, tax collectors and wealthy Pharisees). The God-Man even invited political dynamics into his inner circle, including among his disciples a man beholden to the empire (Matthew, the tax collector), and a passionate, maybe even violent opponent of the Roman occupiers (Simon the Zealot).